Jackson’s Oxford Journal

Saturday, July 27th 1867

Fete in Aid of the Great Western Railway
Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund.

One of those welcome fêtes, when, thanks to the liberality of the Great Western Railway Company, charity is combined with pleasure, was celebrated on Tuesday last. The spot selected for this annual gathering was Englefield Park, the seat of R. Benyon, Esq., M.P. for Berks, who kindly placed it at the service of the Company, to enable them to benefit the Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund, and at the same time give a popular holiday. A previous visit, in 1862, had shown that a more delightful rendezvous for a multitude of persons could not possibly be found. It is centrally situated in regard to those who can take advantage of an opportunity like the one under notice, being a few miles from Reading, and three-quarters of a mile from Theale Station, on the Hungerford Branch Railway.

To enable as many as possible to be present, the Directors of the Great Western Company, exhibiting their usual interest in the welfare of their servants, made every arrangement for the conveyance of the public. A train, calling at the intermediate stations, left Paddington at 8.15 a.m., with passengers from Kensington and the Metropolitan Railway, picking up excursionists till it contained 1200. Two trains ran from Reading, one of which was started at Basingstoke, each accommodating about 1000 persons. Another left Hungerford at eleven o'clock, with 18 closely packed carriages - or “coaches,” as they are termed - and a monster train from Cheltenham, receiving additions at 16 stations, set down some hundreds more than a regimental complement. Trains were run on the branch lines, and by means of special instructions to each Station Master, issued from the head office, and the employment of an extra staff of officials, the excursionists were conveyed without any interference to the ordinary traffic.

The fête train from Oxford was timed for 9.45 am., and at that juncture it steamed up to the platform, consisting of 13carriages. No doubt many hung back on account of the uncertainty of the weather, but ere long the train was filled, or nearly so, and very soon was speeding on its way. A train which had previously left Abingdon had already deposited its occupants at the Junction, where they were received, and proceeding onwards, more were taken in at Culham, Didcot, Moulsford, Goring, and Pangbourne. Avoiding Reading, the loop line passed the train along to Theale, which was reached soon after eleven, without any unnecessary delay. Theale Station presented quite a gala aspect, abundantly bedecked with flags and flying colours, and surrounded by various rival claimants for the passing patronage of the visitors – “Aunt Sallies,” stalls, &c. – and the more attractive vehicles of conveyance to the Park. There were numerous omnibuses brought from Paddington, together with gigs, flys, cars, and wheeled contrivances of every kind, plying at the instance of the Company. They were quickly filled, while those less anxious to arrive at their destination, or not so alive to the inconveniences of a dusty road, pursued the journey on foot. “All the way for threepence” put the company down at the lodge gates, which.afford a very handsome entrance to the noble domain of Englefield. An inscription at this point informs the spectator that the date of erection was in the year of the holding of the previous fête here, and the private road within, prettily winding so as to offer varied prospects, demonstrates how well it has been reclaimed and improved from comparative waste. The: park-like aspect increases as the mansion is neared, and the wildness of nature gives way to the culture of art. The house itself is partially hidden, until its beautiful proportions, executed in light-coloured stone, stand out clearly from a darkly-wooded background. Behind is a steep hill, sheltering the manslon from the north. On one side is a carriage entrance, court yard, and elegant six-storeyed tower; the house front consists of a series of bays; on the other and western side is a conservatory, and in this direction rise a series of terraces laid out with walks and ornamental flower beds, shrubs, and trees. The ground below the terraces gently slopes to a sheet of water, winding among several islands. in which are abundance of wild-fowl, and swans. Flags -among which the Turkish ensign was noticeable, were flying from the roof of the house, and the terraces were soon covered with spectators. In 1862 Mr. Benyon gave a personal welcome to his guests, but on this occasion it appeared that he was not at home, and that the house was under repair. The chaste and costly adornments of the library and drawing and other rooms forming the suite on the ground floor were admired through the windows; an excellent portrait of Mrs. Benyon was generally recognized. The conservatory, with orange trees in fruit, was open, and crowds passed through it to the upper grounds, where cultivated mounds and dells merge into brakes, thicket, and brushwood. The view from the upper round is more commanding than that from the terraces in front of the house, but more limited in out-look. At various points are seen a beautiful valley, bounded by swelling hills, towards the south, the estate being skirted by the Reading and Bath roads east and west, and having opposite the seat of G. M. Thoyts, Esq., Sulhampstead House. The Church spires of Theale, and many other objects, interest the eye and render the landscape one of charming variety, while the visitor is further interested by the fact that it was here that a great battle was fought between our Danish invaders and the subjects. of King Ethelred. The Danes were challenged by Ethelwulf, an Alderman of Berks, and were beaten, with such terrific slaughter, that the locality bears the name of “Dead Man’s Lane” to the present day.

A stage belonging to the Great Western Company, and kept for these occasions, had been erected about the centre of the Park, fitted up with conveniences for the talented performers who were engaged by the Fête Committee for the afternoon. Here the famous Vance sang some of his well-known comic songs, “Jolly Nash” renewed his claim to this descriptive epithet, and G. Leybourne - another name previously heard - gave several of his laughable eccentricities, including the capital make-up and chorusing of his original “Champagne Charlie.” Mr, Nash, by desire, also played his “tootle tootle” on the cornet, though, he said, “no better than a hornet.” Miss Lizzie Pearce, the characteristic singer and dancer, created quite a furore with her Bohemian song, and lavish distribution of brooms, which were not bought from “the poor stranger,” but impartially thrown among the immense concourse of people assembling beneath the shade of the lofty elms under which the performances took place. Little Levite (the electric), and Jessie Nina (the great sensation grotesque) appeared; Mr. W.J. Critchfield sang his favourite “Political Cobbler,” and Mrs. F. Phillips experienced an ovation of applause in her serio-comic songs. This part of the day's amusements was much applauded, and repetitions of each of the performances were more or less eagerly demanded; and as promptly complied with, except in the case of Mr. Nash's “tootle tootle” on the cornet. Mr. Nash, having caught a severe cold the previous evening, after the Odd Fellows' Fête at Oxford, was unable to respond to the call of time; but later in the day he gratified his admirers with an exhibition of his skill on one of Distin’s instruments, informing his hearers that he was not distined to become a distinguished player. The performances commenced at one and terminated at 2.45 p.m. They were resumed at 3.15, and continued till 5 p.m. The stage band was under the direction of Mr. W. R. Griffiths, jun., and the various professionals were introduced by Mr. Adkins, of the Great Western Railway, Paddington. There were other amusements, such as archery (under the management of Mr. Dunton, of Cheltenham), Aunt Sally, throwing at cocoa-nuts, snuff-boxes, &c. In. one part of the Park there was a cricket match between eleven of Paddington and eleven of Newbury, with tent, scorers, all appliances complete. In another a large space was roped for dancing, which commenced early, and was carried on till late, to the inspiriting strains of Matthews’s Oxford Quadrille Band. The Paddington and llth Wilts Volunteer Rifle Bands were likewise in attendance, and played in an excellent manner; as also did a band of juvenile drums and fifes. Provision had been made for playing at quoits, trap, bat, and ball, as well as other amusements. These varied attractions distributed the vast assembly in different directions, and afforded abundant recreation for the mind, which most of those present appeared to enter into with considerable zest and enjoyment. The arrangements made for recruiting and refreshing the excursionists were executed in a series of tents by Mr. Geo. Harper, of the White Hart Inn, Reading. In one spacious pavilion an exccllent and abundant cold collation was served at a moderate charge, while in another facilities were afforded to those who brought their stock of provisions with them, with the opportunity of purchasing whatever addition they might require. In a third there was a by no means infinitesimal drop of good beer; there the beloved Bass and the double X was bought and quaffed – quan. suff. A steam engine of eight-horse-power was employed in boiling water (gratis) for tea, and the cheering cup was presented with concomitants, in the first pavilion.

During the day the musical peal of bells at the pretty little Church of Englefield, which was built within the Park at the sole cost of My. Benyon, was rung, and had a very enlivening effect, while they were also the means of attracting some hundreds to what is really one of the prettiest and most interesting of small country Churches. The Church was restored and a great part of the structure rebuilt in 1855, from designs by Mr. G.Scott. It is in the early English style; piers and arches support the roof, and in the north aisle is a fine old window. There is also a striking window, of stained glass, with representations of the twelve Apostles, and a thirteenth figure apparently designed for St Paul. The sittings in the Church. are open, and are made of Englefield oak, of which there are many fine specimens in the neighbourhood. The east window contains a fine light by Haudman of Birmingham, and the Church, small as it is, abounds in monuments of the Englefield and De Beauvoir family.

The weather, on the whole, was remarkably favourable for the fête. Though forbidding in the morning, and thereby exercising a deterring influence on early starters, it turned out of a most enjoyable character. Floating clouds of varying size moved at a great height overhead, with large clear spaces between. Now and then these fleecy travellers discharged, but the rain was of so genial a kind as to be hardly worth the distension of an umbrella. There was sun enough to render the shade of overhanging trees occasionally grateful, but not to tan the fairest unprotected face; there was a pleasant breeze across the valley – in short, there was nothing to complain of up to half-past five, when the gathering of the clouds gave notice of a brewing storm. Shortly afterwards it burst, and the dancing was for a time sspended, and a general rush made to shelter. The stage entertainment was then just over, aa the professionals were leaving in a special train to meet their engagements in town. A temporary cessation to the amusements ensued, but by and bye it was fine again, and they were pursued with renewed ardour.

About seven o'clock the long-threatening clouds discharged their consents, and for an hour the rain poured down in torrents. Before then, however, the Park had begun to be thinned of its occupants, who were now making the best of their way to the railway station at Theale, which presented an unusually bustling appearance from seven till half-past eight p.m. As soon as the empty carriages drew up to the platform they were filled by the excursionists, and at the latter-mentioned time they had all got off except those for Reading, who left much later in the evening.

The Oxford train left at eight o’clock, the hour fixed for its departure, and after setting down its occupants at the places where they had been taken up, arrived punctually at its destination by 9.30 p.m. No accident that we have heard of occurred to this or any of the other trains.

The total number of persons present was computed at 10,000, and nothing occurred to mar the pleasure of this large number of persons, save a good wetting for those unprovided for the exigencies of our changeable climate.

Transcribed by Colin and Daniel Taylor, 2019